Album Review :
Over The Ocean - Be Given To The Soil

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Artist: Over The Ocean
Title: Be Given The Soil
Label: Spartan Records
Release Date: 04/30/13
Reviewer: Josh Hamm

Tracklisting:

  1. Herons
  2. Riverbed
  3. God In My Own Image
  4. Obscene
  5. Air In My Lungs
  6. Kiss The Ground
  7. Owl
  8. Arguing Philosophies
  9. Ecology
  10. In This Darkness
  11. Someone Has To Bleed

“What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish into the sea.”
Frederick Buechner, Godric.

Recently I was putting together a summer playlist. Fun, upbeat songs to drive to in the sun with the windows rolled down. This album is not making the cut. Be Given To The Soil is anything but lighthearted and fun; it’s a dark, pensive take on God and humanity; it plumbs the depths of the human soul, and the soul is found wanting.

The opening lines of “Herons” set the introspective, despairing mood throughout: “I have seen the sky turn black/ and a storm is coming, a storm is coming on… there’s a distance my legs will never cross/ between the sacred and the obscene.” A dissonant, repetitive guitar effect closes the song in way which sets you on edge, which segues into “Riverbed,” a touching narrative about a car crash, only coming away with the echoing sentiment that “it’s a hard thing to understand.” It’s a great song musically, with heavy hitting drums, subtle guitars, and a soothing sound of an ocean tide coming in half way through.

While the entirety of the music is arranged to fit together as conducive to the tone of the album, it is the lyrics which take the spotlight. Questions sprout as if from the lips of Nicodemus, and the words range from poetry to confessional prayer worthy of Augustine. An ever present theme is a struggle with the notion of Total Depravity, as seen in both “God In My Own Image” and “Obscene.” The latter uses a hard hitting spoken word approach, culminating in a sung plea “I know the curtain was torn/but there is still/this veil of skin and bone /that divides /you and me.” Does our postlapsarian nature mean that we cannot communicate properly with God? Is the chasm between God and man bridged by Jesus, or is it still too far across?

On “Owl” they question the objectivity of truth, though they do descend into cliché for one of the few times on Be Given To The Soil, as they implore, “O, open your eyes/ this world is not so black and white.” But it’s not quite that simple, as it’s followed up by “there is a color that will not die/ the dawn of the day that never ends.” Lyrically and vocally, “Arguing Philosophies” reminds me of Wovenhand – it’s that good. The song is looking back on the futility of arguing over philosophies and views of God, because it’s all empty, hollow ideas. The song climaxes with “The earth and sky shake/ at the weight of your words/ and I saw the rain fall/ I heard you speak/ I heard you speak straight into me.” The vocals are raw and raspy and the music is relentlessly pounding – it’s a powerful medium.

It’s a concept album that works on every level. Every note, every sound is designed and orchestrated to fit the overarching mood of the album, not the songs as individuals. This doesn’t mean that the songs lack diversity; because they are incredibly diverse, ranging from the post-hardcore screams of “God In My Own Image” to the ethereal, ambient sounds of “Kiss the Ground.” It’s not always a pleasant experience as moments of dissonance and cacophony dominate the soundscape in a visceral way that leaves your nerves raw.

But then songs like “Ecology” add a soft, sparse piano pared with these lyrics: “when I am returned to you/it will be with the greatest joy/ though I have understood nothing in this life/ you have shown me only kindness and beauty.” It’s so simple a song, yet it communicates one of the most significant moments of hope throughout the album, a reprieve from the ever present doubts, and sets a similar tone to the last two songs.

“In This Darkness” features simple distorted guitar and a leading percussion section that drives the song, as one message is expounded over and over in simple lyrics: “I was born to know you/ in this darkness/ I will find you / you are not far /you are not far.” The final song is an honest look at the cost of love, and acknowledges the lack of our ability to fully comprehend truth, simply allowing that “oh, you are a holy mystery/ I say your name is love /and it’s as close to truth / as I may ever come.” Heavily pedal affected guitar closes out the song as these words turn round like an ever spinning record: “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” Over the Ocean does not try to understand God, they do not try to explain Him, they only struggle to grasp their faith and duel between the fallen nature of humanity and the joy of a truth which cannot be understood.

The closest experience I can liken listening to this album to is reading a story by Dostoevsky, Buechner or O’Connor, or watching a movie like The Passion of Joan of Arc or Paths of Glory – at times it’s a dark descent into the abyss, with an ever present ambiguity that questions truth, but grace abounds in the shadows and between the lines, and despair is never the answer. It shatters your views, but allows you to eventually pick up the pieces and rearrange them in a new and profound way.

Overall: Be Given To The Soil is a unique, existential piece of music that is Kierkegaardian in tone, and echoes Ecclesiastes in its questioning. The music is not always approachable, but it is anything but predictable – this is post rock like you’ve never heard it before. Over the Ocean is exploring truth, not explaining it or making hasty conclusions about it, and if you have a heart ready to dive into the abyss, you can explore with them. It’s an album to listen to over and over again, soaking in new insights with each listen.

RIYL: Thrice, David Bazan, The Frozen Ocean, mewithoutYou, Dead Poetic, SONS, Wovenhand

Buy the album: iTunes / Amazon MP3 / Vinyl

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